Sen. Lloyd Millard Bentsen Jr.
1921 - 2006
US Senator from Texas, 69th US Secretary of the Treasury
Senator Lloyd Bentsen was a four-term United States senator (1971 until 1993) from Texas and the Democratic Party nominee for Vice President in 1988 on the Michael Dukakis ticket. He also served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1955. In his later political life, he was Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the U.S. Treasury Secretary during the early years of the Clinton administration.
Bentsen was born in Mission, Texas, to the grandchildren of Danish immigrants. He was born to first generation Americans, Lloyd Millard Bentsen, Sr., and the former Edna Ruth Colbath. Bentsen was an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1942, where he was a respected Brother of the Upsilon Chapter (0484) of The Sigma Nu International fraternity. Upon graduation, he served in the United States Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945. After brief service as a private in intelligence work in Brazil, he became a pilot and in early 1944 began flying World War II combat missions in B-24s from southern Italy with the 449th Bomb Group. At the age of 23, he was promoted to the rank of major and given command of a squadron of 600 men, overseeing the operations of 15 bombers, their crews, and maintenance units.
In 15 months of combat, Bentsen flew 35 missions against many highly defended targets including the Ploes,ti oil fields in Romania, which were critical to the Nazi war production. The 15th Air Force, to which the 449th Bomb Group was assigned, is credited with destroying all of the petroleum production within its range, which equated to about half of Germany's sources of fuel on the continent. Major Bentsen's unit also flew against communications centers, aircraft factories and industrial targets in Germany, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Bentsen participated in bombing raids in support of the Anzio campaign and flew bombers against hard targets in preparation for the landing in southern France.
Bentsen was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the Army Air Corps' and now the Air Force's highest commendations for achievement or heroism in flight. In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bentsen was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters. The Air Medal and each subsequent cluster award were awarded for completing specific numbers of combat missions. Before completing his military service, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
Early Political Career
After the war, Bentsen returned to his native Rio Grande Valley. He served the people of his home area from 1946 to 1955, first as Hidalgo County Judge (a largely administrative post as opposed to judicial duties) before serving three successive terms in the United States House of Representatives. In each of his three campaigns for the House, Bentsen was unopposed in the general election. While sitting as a member of the House, Bentsen advocated using atomic weapons against North Korean cities if they did not withdraw north of the 38th parallel. In 1954, he declined to seek reelection and entered what was to become a prosperous career in business.
For 16 years, Bentsen worked in the financial sector in Houston. He was successful and became very secure financially. By 1970, he had become president of Lincoln Consolidated, a financial holding institution.
Return To Politics
Following his successful primary campaign, which upset liberal incumbent Ralph Yarborough for the 1970 Democratic nomination for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate, Bentsen resigned all management positions and directorships.
Later that year, Bentsen went on to win the general election when he was pitted against Congressman and future President George H. W. Bush. On election night, Bentsen beat Bush convincingly.
1976 Presidential Campaign
Beginning in 1974, Bentsen campaigned for the Democratic Party's 1976 presidential nomination. In 1974 he visited 30 states and raised $350,000 at a single fundraiser in Texas. Bentsen formally announced his candidacy on February 17, 1975 and in the early part of that year he had already raised over $1 million for his campaign; only George Wallace of Alabama and Henry M. 'Scoop' Jackson of Washington had raised more money by that point. Bentsen did not organize effectively on a national level, and many observers believed the freshman senator was running without any real hope of winning the nomination, hoping instead to secure a vice-presidential nomination.
Wallace and Jackson were considered to be the two main contenders for the moderate to conservative voters whom Bentsen would appeal; early in the campaign few foresaw Jimmy Carter of Georgia also effectively appealing to that group.
By October 1975 Bentsen, generating little national attention or significance in the polls, scaled back his campaign to a limited effort in areas of 8 to 10 states, hoping for a deadlocked convention. In the first state contest Bentsen vigorously contested, he managed only 1.6% of the vote in Mississippi. Two weeks later Bentsen staked the remainder of his campaign and resources in neighboring Oklahoma but finished third with only 12%. A few days later Bentsen shut down his national campaign, staying in the race only as a favorite son in Texas. However, in the May 1, 1976 primary Jimmy Carter won 92 of Texas' 98 delegates. The eventual nominee and president, Carter was later quoted as saying he had expected a much stronger showing by Bentsen but that Bentsen's failure to campaign nationally had ended his hopes.
Firmly ensconced in Washington, Bentsen was overwhelmingly re-elected to the Senate in 1976, 1982, and 1988. He defeated sitting Republican congressmen from "safe" House seats in all four of his Senate elections, including Bush in 1970. In 1976, he ended the career of Alan Steelman of Dallas. In 1982, he defeated James M. Collins of Dallas. In 1988, he defeated Beau Boulter of Amarillo. Bentsen was also on the ballot as the Democratic vice presidential nominee that year; he could seek both offices under the 1960 "Johnson law."
Bentsen was known as a moderate Democrat. His support for abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, and civil rights was balanced by his endorsement of public school prayer, capital punishment, tax cuts, and deregulation of industry. He generally supported business interests in the arena of economic policy and swiftly rose to become a power to be reckoned with on the Senate Finance Committee.
Bentsen's reputation as a moderate Democrat served to alienate him not only from supporters of Ralph Yarborough, but from prominent national liberals, as well. Indeed, during the 1970 Senate race, the Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith endorsed George Bush, arguing that if Bentsen were elected to the Senate, he would invariably become the face of a new, more conservative Texas Democratic Party, and that the long-term interests of Texas liberalism demanded Bentsen's defeat.
1988 Vice Presidential Candidate
In 1988 Governor Michael Dukakis (MA) chose him to be his running mate in that year's presidential election. Bentsen was selected in large part to secure the state of Texas and its electoral vote for the Democrats. Because of Bentsen's status of something of an elder statesman who was more experienced in elected politics, many believed Dukakis' selection of Bentsen as his running mate was a mistake in that Bentsen, number two on the ticket, appeared more "presidential" than did Dukakis. One elector in West Virginia even cast a ballot for him rather than Dukakis in voting, giving him one electoral vote for President.
He was responsible for one of the most memorable moments of the campaign during his televised debate with Republican Vice Presidential nominee Dan Quayle. Quayle noted that he had as much political experience as John F. Kennedy when Kennedy ran for office. Bentsen fired back with the retort "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." This is one of the few times that Quayle responded to Bentsen in the debate, as Quayle spent most of the time to attack Dukakis instead.
The Dukakis-Bentsen ticket lost the election. Bentsen was unable to swing his home state, with 43 percent of the Texas vote going for the Dukakis ticket while Bush and Quayle took 56 percent.
His stature enhanced, Bentsen considered running for president in 1992, but he, along with many other Democrats, backed out because of Bush's apparent popularity from the outcome of The Gulf War. A controversy arose during that time when Bentsen cancelled his membership in but then rejoined a whites-only country club.
Later Political Career
He resigned from the Senate in January 1993 to serve as the 69th secretary of the treasury under Clinton from 1993 to 1994. While Secretary, Bentsen successfully urged Clinton to pursue relatively pro-business and deficit-reducing economic policies. Clinton's selection of Bentsen for his Cabinet was criticized by some Democrats, when a Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison, won the special election in June 1993, for the year and a half left in Bentsen's term. As secretary of the treasury, Bentsen helped to shepherd Clinton's first budget through Congress. President Clinton awarded Bentsen the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999.
In 1998, Bentsen suffered two strokes, which left him needing a wheelchair for mobility. He appeared in the summer of 2004 at the portrait unveilings at the White House of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Two hundred seventy miles of U.S. Highway 59, from I-35 to I-45 in Texas (between Laredo and Houston, respectively), is officially named the Senator Lloyd Bentsen Highway.
Bentsen's family continues to be active in politics. His nephew, Ken Bentsen, Jr., was a U.S. Representative (D) from 1995 to 2003 in Texas's 25th District, and a U.S. Senate candidate in 2002. His grandson, Lloyd Bentsen IV, served on John Kerry's advance staff during Kerry's 2004 campaign for the Presidency of the United States.
Bentsen died on May 23, 2006, at his home in Houston at the age of eighty-five. He was survived by his wife, the former Beryl Ann Longino, three children, and several grandchildren. His funeral was held on May 30 at the First Presbyterian Church of Houston. Former President Bill Clinton, who was a close friend of Bentsen's, delivered a eulogy.
Referenced from Wikipedia.com:
• Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
• Reuters: "Former Senator, Treasury chief Bentsen dies" 23 May 2006
• Houston Chronicle: "Former Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen dies" 23 May 2006